I. M. Wright podcast: “Opportunity in a gorilla suit”

“Hard Code” is an opinion column for developers by I. M. Wright, Microsoft development manager at large. The column’s motto is “Brutally honest, no pulled punches.” If you enjoy this column/podcast, you’ll enjoy I. M. Wright’s “Hard Code” (Microsoft Press, 2008), which includes 49 columns and numerous Eric Asides contextualizing and clarifying I. M.’s unpulled punches. (Eric Brechner is Director of Development Excellence in Microsoft’s Engineering Excellence group.)

Today’s podcast is from the archives: “Opportunity in a gorilla suit,” first published in July 2008.

The podcast can be found here.

I. M. opens this month’s column/podcast this way:

It's annual review time at Microsoft. We differentiate pay between high, average, and low performers in the same roles. Thus, it's time to calibrate those who've made the most of their opportunities in the past year with those in the mainstream of solid engineers and those who haven't quite kept pace with peers.

Eric Aside   There are many people inside and outside of Microsoft who critique differentiated pay, saying it sabotages teams and teamwork. While I do agree team results should be a component of compensation, I don’t think differentiated pay is the problem (see “Beyond comparison” in Chapter 9).

As a manager, this is also time for the whiners and the clueless to lament to me about their lack of opportunities to grow and demonstrate their true worth. As if managers hoard those opportunities, giving them out only in moments of weakness or pity. As if those opportunities are rare—hidden treasures available only to the select few with guile and charm. No, you fools, opportunities aren't rare and they aren't hidden. Opportunities are big, loud, and aromatic. They stand right in front of you in gorilla suits beating their chests all day long.

Yet many smart engineers don't notice. Huge, noisy, smelly gorillas in their face day after day, and they don't notice. Sometimes their manager hands them the opportunity, invites them to a meeting, or puts them on a project, and still the engineers, capable engineers, ignore it. They hand the opportunity to someone else. They give it only passing attention. They leave it sitting in a corner till it finally devolves from inattention.

Why?!? Why don't engineers notice these opportunities? Why do they toss them aside, only to complain in July about the lack of opportunity? Towering, raucous, pungent opportunities in gorilla suits, every day, ignored. Why?


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